Summit County sheriff candidates Steve Barry and Randy Rivers are similar in many ways.
Both are career lawmen, recently retiring after about 30 years with their respective departments.
They cite some of the same issues for the next sheriff: the tight budget, poor employee morale and lousy conditions at the county jail.
And neither has run for political office previously.
One thing that sets them apart is where they worked — and each is touting that as a strength of his campaign.
Barry, the Democratic candidate, is a retired captain from the sheriff’s office. He says he has the sheriff’s experience and he knows the issues.
Rivers, the Republican candidate, is a retired captain from the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department. He says he has the experience and will bring fresh ideas to the county.
They hope to succeed Republican Sheriff Drew Alexander, who served as an Akron police detective before coming sheriff. He opted not to seek a fourth four-year term.
This is the first time since 2000 voters have faced a choice for sheriff.
Alexander ran unopposed in 2004 and 2008.
The sheriff, who is paid $100,338 a year, oversees a $28.7 million annual budget and about 435 full- and part-time workers.
Rivers, 57, lives in Cuyahoga Falls with his wife.
He started his career in the U.S. Air Force and served six years with the military police.
He rose through the ranks of the Cuyahoga Falls police, retiring in 2010. Rivers, who has two degrees from the University of Akron, helped develop the regional dispatching center that serves Cuyahoga Falls, Munroe Falls and Silver Lake.
Until last month, he also served as the part-time commander of the UA police academy but resigned after he was accused of sexual harassment by a female worker. The accusation, which Rivers insists is untrue, has damaged his reputation, but he has vowed not to step down from the sheriff’s race.
Barry, 55, lives in Green with his wife.
He started his career as a part-time sheriff’s deputy and rose through the ranks before retiring in 2009. When he left the department, he was working on the organized crime unit.
After retiring, he worked as a part-time direct indictment officer and investigator for the county prosecutor’s office but left that position to run for sheriff.
Barry bested retired Akron police detective Frank Martucci in the primary earlier this year. Alexander has crossed party lines to endorse Barry.
Asked why they want to be sheriff, both men said they feel they can improve the department.
• Barry: “Having been there 32 years, I have a love for the place and the people. And I feel I’m well-qualified to do the job.”
• Rivers: “The first and primary [reason] is that I have dedicated my whole life to public safety and law enforcement ... And I want to take that same fervor, that same work ethic and style to the county.”
The sheriff’s biggest job is running the jail, a task that hasn’t been easy in recent years with deputy layoffs and civilian cutbacks. At $19 million, it’s the largest expense for the department.
Both Barry and Rivers said they are worried about conditions at the jail for workers and inmates and would make the facility a priority.
For example, the jail gymnasiums and library are closed, and counseling programs have been trimmed because of staff cutbacks. That has created a dangerous atmosphere, the candidates said.
Both said they would reach out to churches and community members to volunteer at the jail to ease tensions.
“You can’t get the real work done by sitting behind a desk,” Rivers said. “You have to get out. You have to see the people. You have to be among them. That’s my style.”
Barry said he has ideas, but declined to discuss them in advance of the election. Instead, he is pushing his experience.
“I feel that I know the inner workings of the department,” he said. “I’m very familiar with most of the people in the department. And I’m obviously familiar with the financial crisis that the department has been in the last three years.”
Rivers said he wants to develop more partnerships with area police chiefs.
He cited, as an example, his desire to develop a Summit County crime center to focus on intelligence-led policing, a concept that analyzes crime data and identifies trends. The center can help predict crimes and use resources in a more effective way, Rivers said.
He also said he wants to organize a sheriff’s advisory committee made up of employees, church representatives and service organizations to advise him on issues.
No political candidate escapes criticism.
Rivers has admitted he had never voted in elections, saying that he didn’t want politics to interfere with his job. He had to register to run for office.
Then there’s the sexual harassment complaint. The university’s EEO investigator concluded Rivers and his boss violated the school’s Sexual Harassment Policy.
Rivers has insisted he was railroaded during UA’s investigation.
Meanwhile, Republicans are pointing to a 1994 scuffle between Barry, at that time a Summit sheriff’s deputy, and an Akron attorney at the former Coliseum parking lot in Richfield after a Grateful Dead concert.
The two men fought after Barry asked the attorney to leave the area. The attorney, who was attempting to use a pay phone, said he and Barry got into an argument.
Barry has said he was shoved.
The attorney was charged with assault, but later was acquitted, and the county had to pay $100,000 to settle a civil lawsuit.
To see short videos recorded at the Beacon Journal of each candidate, go to www.Ohio.com.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.